Sep 202011

My column in today’s DNA


It has been a decade since al-Qaeda took the war in the Middle East to the doorsteps of the Americans. 9/11 became a watershed moment for the ‘War on Terror’, with the US and its allies recognising what countries like India had been facing for more than a decade before that: small groups of interlinked, highly motivated terrorists brining war to civilian populations, in civilian areas.
The US responded by bombing Afghanistan. A year or so later it went to war with Iraq, ostensibly because it had weapons of mass destruction, but somewhere that war, too was enmeshed with the war on terror.
In the next 10 years, the US and its allies have waged a bloody and brutal war against terror, striking at suspected terrorist cells across the world, incarcerating people without trial at Guantanamo Bay, making incursions into sovereign territories in order to attack and destroy terrorists. To achieve this, intelligence networks have been put in place, information systems are up and running, a large number of military personnel, arms and armament, and equipment have been deployed. Targets are continuously attacked. And, of course, Osama Bin Laden has been killed. But, despite all this, the war on terror is not over. Terrorists still attack.
It is estimated that the US alone has spent over $4 trillion since 2002. Over and above this, there has been a tremendous human cost — approximately 2.5 lakh people have died and over 7 million refugees are living in camps across the world.
Has all this reduced the intensity of terrorist attacks? Maybe it has kept the US and its allies safe, but the rest of the world does not have the luxury of invading sovereign nations suspected of harbouring terrorists. The rest of the world has to fight terror the old fashioned way. Step by step. Keeping in mind the laws of their land; keeping in mind international laws; respecting international conventions on sovereignty, and adhering to international codes on human rights. These countries simply cannot send crack assassination teams to nations that harbour terrorists. In many ways the anti-terror machinery in other countries apart from the US and its allies, fights with one hand tied behind its back. While these countries are able to stop most terror attacks, they have been rather unsuccessful in stopping the funding of terror.
One of the most lucrative sources of funding terror has been the production, processing, distribution and retailing of narcotics the world over. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime, despite their rejection of modernity, terrorists have adopted sophisticated, modern techniques of using crime to fund the war. This includes drugs & arms trafficking, laundering the monies earned from this, and deep involvement in cross border organised crime.
An earlier 2007 report from the UNODC had pegged the total value of the previous year’s opium harvest in Afghanistan alone, earned by farmers, laboratory owners and Afghan traffickers at about $3.1 billion. Afghanistan is not the only opium producer in the world. Pakistan is another major opium growing country. The same theory applies to India. Large portions of Naxal controlled areas grow opium and others are used to traffic drugs in relative safety. Kashmir is another area where Opium is grown and trafficked.
The war on terror will not succeed until there is political will to cut off the money supply that fund terror. And a large part of not only the money supply but also the ground level organisation that plants terror is the narcotics trade. The last 20 years of the war on drugs have yielded nothing except to put huge profits — in cash — into the hands of those who seek to disrupt nation states. It seems ridiculous that while spending billions on fighting terror, governments across the world do not cut off the source of funds. The war on drugs is not a war that can be won by patrolling every inch of the globe and burning down every opium farm. There simply isn’t the manpower to achieve it, and growing it is far too easy, and the profits far too high not to be tempted. It can only be won by legalising drugs, monitoring it, taxing it and tracking it. Governments and various agencies across the world need to shed their dogma about prohibition of drugs. To fight and win the war on terror, the source of funds needs to be cut off. And that starts with legalising drugs.

Jul 132011

I was at JKD’s place. A visit long pending – she had fallen down a month ago. hurt her knee very badly. Ended up getting operated.

We were generally chatting and catching up on films, life and other things when the call came.Blasts in Mumbai – 3 of them. Turned on TV. some people – ‘journalists’ screaming and yelling. the anchors sounding gleeful (switched 3 channels – same behaviour). eye witnesses played in a loop. by the third time JKD was able to perfectly deliver an eye witnesses’ lines. And then she (JKD) asked an important question – why are they not telling us exactly where the blasts happened instead of this crap. Where in Dadar, Where in Jhaveri Bazaar. Where ??

Drivng home from Andheri West to East – there was a quiet calm on the roads. The 8 pm traffic is usually heavy and noisy. Today it was neither. The rains had kept many people away from work. The blasts either kept them at work or they were stranded en route to the suburbs. People followed signals. didn’t flash their high beams. didn’t honk incessantly – there was Nakabandi – but it was smooth and well organised..

30 day Project Day 8 - roadworks

Roadworks at Juhu Gully – the red flashed on the panels was almost symbolic

While at a signal before Juhu Gully meets SV road – i was waiting by the side of the new East to West flyover project. A thought flashed in my mind – what if the bombs were here ? And then another flashed equally rapidly – what could you do if there was?


A thought here – the Mumbai police has kept most of safe this last three years. I wonder how many terror threats they foiled. They failed on this one. People died.

If we live in a society that is fairly open and mostly free – there is a price to be paid – because there will always be people who want to break your resilience and your spirit through violence. And just because you are a system like China doesn’t mean there isn’t violence. There has to be more vigilance. Better laws – and better monitoring.  And there will always be that tussle between security and liberty.

Can systems be better – yes. Can they be fool proof . No. Because the terrorists have an advantage that the System doesn’t – they can kill innocents without a twinge of conscience. Their cause means more than lives. the thing also to remember is that when we keep comparing our systems and response to 9/11 – we forget one thing about them. People came together, political opponents came together and the Nation united in the face of terror. We behave the way we have always behaved through history – seeing tragedy as an opportunity to score points…

Must admit – however much my anger is at the blasts – the system that was so very wobbly post 26/11 swung into place. The cops were putting out information. The vultures journalists from TV channels were kept out. The politicians seemed more or less mature. There seemed to be centre state co-ordination. The HM flew out a few hours before the channels reported it. NSG was on its way at 8. And, twitterati swung into action – the #here2help & #mumbaibblasts hashtags helped. There were, of course, rumours. But, they were quickly dispelled.

There will of course be questions to asked and answered. But for today – apart from some random spouting there seems to be unity.

There were of course those who were spewing vitriol. But, then they always do.


Mar 122010

March 12th 1993. A time when Mumbai was still Bombay. Lokhandwalla was a set of buildings in progress, where gangs regularly went to war. Where In Orbit & Hypercity Malad were rubbish dumps, when the expressway didn’t exist, when Asiatic and Akbarally’s were great malls and when Phoenix was a shut down mill !

March 12th 1993, a set of blasts that shook Mumbai to the core. Buildings blasted, people vaporized and the sense of innate security that citizens of this metropolis had torn to shreds. In all,

A series of bomb blasts ripped through 13 places in the city, killing 257 people and injuring 713. These were the first blasts in which RDX was used and the explosions were allegedly planned by underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.

This was before the 24/7 news era – and therefore the term 12/3 has not passed into popular lexicon ! No body remembers the anniversary or places flowers at key places where the bombs went off and people died

Locations attacked include (dead in brackets)

* Fisherman’s Colony in Mahim causeway[15]
* Zaveri Bazaar[12]
* Plaza Cinema[12]
* Century Bazaar[12]
* Katha Bazaar[12]
* Hotel Sea Rock[12]
* Sahar Airport[12]
* Air India Building[12]
* Hotel Juhu Centaur[12]
* Plaza Theatre near Shiv Sena HQ[16]
* Lucky Petrol near Shiv Sena HQ[16]
* Worli[17]
* Bombay Stock Exchange Building[10]
* Hotel Centaur, Santa Cruz[16]
* Area opposite of Century Bazaar[13]
* Passport Office[18]

I was a student at that time, away in London. I heard about it on the BBC. I was terrified. My dad worked in Air India Building, my brother studied at Xaviers, my mom taught at Sophia’s – all in town, and both passing the passport office en route to our home. It was a different time – no instant messaging, no net, no twitter – and the land lines were impossible to get through to …..

My mother told me about this BEST bus that was blown up near the passport office. many commuters were 12th standard students, who having finished their HSC exams were returning to their respective homes. Not enough scraps were found for last rites.

SR pointed me out to a spot next to Sena Bhavan – the site of a petrol pump – where a bomb failed to go off. Had it gone off the whole area would have been levelled .

The foot soldiers behind the blast were sentenced a few years ago. Those who planned it still run free.

The BBC’s coverage -

Dec 102008

Two very different stories caught my attention today. Both are related to media coverage.

One was in the Indian Express by Rajat Sharma, of India TV, quoting a former Army Chief – who had come into the channel to advice producers & camerapersons on :

what precautions they should have taken while showing “live” action. My most important objective was to understand if news channels, in any way, endangered the lives of our commandos.

To my surprise, the former army chief was emphatic: “News channels did nothing wrong. Your coverage didn’t do any harm whatsoever to the commandos! I’ve handled action as a major, then as a full colonel, and finally as an army commander in anti-terrorist operations, and there’s nothing I could make out from the news channel about the strategy of our commandos.”

Frankly, I expected him to echo what some have been saying—how terrorists got valuable clues on the commando plan by watching our channels. But sample what he said: “Do you think that terrorists holed up in a hotel facing commando fire had time to watch TV?” A young reporter persisted. He reminded the general of the “widespread belief” that the terrorists were being briefed on their Blackberries by their bosses, watching our news channels. Promptly came the angry reply. “Anyone suggesting this must be mad. (Even) I could not get an idea about the action plan. Who has the time to look at TV and Blackberries when you are in the midst of gunfire?”

The second was in the International Herald Tribune, quoting Indian authorities :

And, perhaps most significantly, throughout the three-day siege at two luxury hotels and a Jewish center, the Pakistani-based handlers communicated with the attackers using Internet phones that complicate efforts to trace and intercept calls.

Those handlers, who were apparently watching the attacks unfold live on television, were able to inform the attackers of the movement of security forces from news accounts and provide the gunmen with instructions and encouragement, the authorities said.


Nov 302008

A parliamentary democracy is made of checks and balances. There is a government and there is opposition. We don’t elect Gods, nor do we elect people with absolute power.

The role of the Government is to ensure that they uphold the Constitution – and bring in policies that they think are in line with the Constitution. The role of the opposition is to make sure that they do.

While we are all agreed that the Government – the UPA – has fucked up beyond measure on internal security, the role of the opposition is ignored. The NDA in general & the BJP in particular has seen its role as opposing the Government on everything, and not ensuring that they perform their constitutional role.

As i watch the news and the announcement of Shivraj Patil’s resignation – i am left numb. Why was he allowed to continue when he was so bloody inept? I am left even colder by the BJP making political capital out of this. Did Advani resign when the Parliament was attacked ? Did Modi resign when 2000+ people died in terror attacks in his state? Did anyone take moral responsibility for Kandahar ? Why the hell did Modi come to this city to politicize our tragedy? Where was the Thackeray family? It is all very well to sit in AC TV studio’s and pontificate about what the Government would and could and should have done. But, what did you do on the ground. How many of them donated blood, or money or support the men who keep us safe ?

When honest officers, like Hemant Karkare go after terror, he is vilified by the Sangh family. When brave officers like Mohan Sharma die at Batla house, he is vilified by sections of the Congress, the SP and RJD. Stop politicizing law and order. Stop punishing people doing their jobs. stop making a mockery of our lives.

This is not the time for political grandstanding. It is the time to put this country and its citizens first. I would like to see the entire geriatric class in politics – those who have been used to selling themselves and their constituents to the highest bidders – to take vanaprastha. Go. Retire. and contemplate on your innumerable fuckups. God may forgive you. But, you cannot escape your karma. Hand over the country to the next generation. they cannot be worse than you.